Building sustainable “strategic competence” into the DNA of a firm is what corporate learning should pursue, says strategy consultant Prof Roland Deiser. In his latest book Designing the Smart Organization: How Breakthrough Corporate Learning Initiatives Drive Strategic Change and Innovation, he describes how large-scale participatory learning can be put into practice by giving numerous examples from leading companies and organisations. ELIG has invited the renowned learning expert to contribute to its workshop on Wednesday, December 2nd at ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN.
OEB: Mr Deiser, you say that corporate learning should not get stuck in people qualification and HR but has to become a business practice. Could you please explain what you mean by that?
Deiser: I would say that the essence of corporate learning lies in providing tools, systems and mechanisms to develop the strategic and organisational capabilities of an organisation. People qualification – which has its traditional home in HR – is only one element in a much more complex game. I think we all agree that there is no great organisation without great people, but the best people cannot unfold their potential if they are hamstrung by poor organisational structures and cultures. And even great organisations with great people are doomed to fail if they rest on their laurels, i.e. if they do not develop the strategic competence to creatively deal with an ever-more-rapidly-changing environment.
This more comprehensive view of learning puts the practice right where it belongs – in the core of the value-generating processes of a corporation. Leaving learning in the people qualification box moves it to the fringes of this process, disconnected from work, disconnected from where the action is. If you see the objective of corporate learning and development as assuring sustainable competitive advantage, learning must not stop at the level of qualifying individuals; it must become a pervasive capability that addresses all aspects of a complex system.
OEB: In your new book Designing the Smart Organization, you also address the issue of how disruptive change can be addressed through learning. Could one alternatively say “how best to deal with a crisis”?
Mr Deiser: Yes, I think you could say that. After all, the etymological meaning of the Greek word krisis is “a turning point of a disease, requiring a decision” – pretty much what we face in times of disruptive change. Most people would agree that the pace of disruption has been accelerating over the last few decades. Today we face major paradigm shifts in virtually every industry, mostly driven by leapfrog advances in technology and the globalisation that has accompanied it. These developments open up tremendous opportunities to reshape how we deal with the world, but they are also threatening and potentially destructive as we lag behind in our ability to deal with complexity, assess the systemic impact of our actions, and govern global phenomena such as global warming. In this situation, learning is not an option; it is an imperative. We have to learn as individuals, as organisations, and as political systems so we can better understand the emerging opportunity spaces and capitalise on them in ways that will lead us to a new quality of a global society in ecological balance with the planet. We cannot afford to fail here.
OEB: Is this a topic you are going to introduce in the course of the ELIG Workshop on December 2nd?
Mr Deiser: At the ELIG workshop, we want to explore how a new paradigm of learning may be helpful in addressing the burning issues we face in business and society. To do this, we will look at the challenges and possible answers through various lenses. My contribution will deal with the transformational forces that lead us to redefine our understanding of learning, the resulting shifts in practices, the required new internal role configurations, and the consequences of these dynamics for the stakeholder universe of the learning industry. I think it will be an exciting debate that will help setting the agenda for the future of the practice.
OEB: What role can e-learning solutions play here? Are there any current e-learning developments that you find particularly promising in this regard?
Deiser: I think that the practice of e-learning itself is in the midst of disruptive change and that the e-learning industry faces a tough learning challenge when it comes to developing the capabilities required in the new world of large-scale participatory learning. In the old paradigm, e-learning offerings were typically a one-way distribution channel of more or less well-designed instructional content. The attractive value proposition was scalability and virtualisation. The quality of offerings was primarily defined through the quality of content design, and advances were focused on providing ever-richer media, designing user-friendly interfaces, and distributing knowledge just in time to the right audience. But excellence in these virtues is no longer the primary key to competitive success.
With the advent of social-media technology – commonly referred to as Web 2.0 – we enter a totally new age of true interactivity that opens up a new universe for e-driven learning architectures. For the first time, the learner has the opportunity to take charge, to create content, to connect with peers, and to generate self-organised learning networks – all on a global scale. In the new and emerging paradigm, the quality of e-learning offerings will be determined not so much by content solutions but by the elegance of a socio-technological architecture that enables collaboration and self- organised discourse. The old model of distributing content will remain, but it will become smaller and not dominate any more. In addition to instructional design excellence, e-learning providers will need a much deeper understanding of the social infrastructure of an organisation that fosters (or inhibits) informal and learner-driven learning. They will have to migrate from producers and distributors of content to technologically savvy social-network architects. To be successful, they will also have to help their clients to achieve the required media literacy, i.e. help them to achieve the ability to use the possibilities of the new media across the whole chain of design, production and interactive distribution as they become the owners of the process.
That’s quite exciting if you think about it, but it requires new competencies, will shake up established revenue models, and we will see a shake-out of the industry, as well as the emergence of new players. Which gets us back to disruption…
OEB: Thank you very much for your time!
At OEB 2009, Roland Deiser will participate in the workshop “Moving beyond the Crisis Powered by Knowledge and Learning Solutions – What is the NEXT Practice?”, which will take place on December 2nd, 2009 from 14:00 – 18:00.
More information on Roland Deiser’s book Designing the Smart Organization: How Breakthrough Corporate Learning Initiatives Drive Strategic Change and Innovation is available at www.rolanddeiser.com and http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0470490675.html